Monday, May 7, 2012

The "Hindenburg" Mystery

75 years ago, on May 6, 1937 an unimaginable tragedy occurred at Lakehurst, NJ - the German airship "Hindenburg," the pride of the Third Reich, caught fire and crashed killing thirty six people. It took only thirty seven seconds for the "Hindenburg" to completely burn down. This tragedy was witnessed by hundreds of people who gathered at Lakehurst to watch "Hindenburg's" arrival.

The "Hindenburg" was built in Germany in 1935. This 800-foot long airship, named after the last president of the Weimar Republic Paul von Hindenburg, was considered a marvel of sophisticated air travel. By 1937 it had already made dozens of Transatlantic flights.

The "Hindenburg" was equipped with sixteen gas cells that had a total gas capacity of 7,062,100 cubic feet and was powered by four 1,100-horsepower diesel engines. Originally  this airship was constructed for a less flammable helium gas, but the United States had refused to export helium to Germany. Thus, the "Hindenburg" was filled with the less expensive but extremely flammable hydrogen. 

The "Hindenburg" had departed from Frankfurt, Germany, on May 3, 1937, and was scheduled to land at Lakehurst on the morning of May 6. However, bad weather conditions delayed the landing and the blimp kept flying over New York City until it could land in New Jersey.
There is much speculation about the origins of this tragedy. Many people believe that the "Hindenburg" was a victim of sabotage perpetrated by Germans who opposed the Nazi regime. This is the romantic version of the tragedy. Another version has it that the giant blimp was ignited by a lightning. More recently, however, some scientists theorized that a build-up of static electricity was responsible for the disaster, although Horst Schirmer, whose father was the "Hindenburg's" aeronautical designer, believes that the airship most probably suffered a leak to its hydrogen gas cells while performing the docking maneuver. 

We may never know what really happened.

The tragedy of "Hindenburg" set an end to the Transatlantic blimp travel. And if it hadn't, the looming war would have made such travel impossible anyway.

By Dominique Allmon